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The museums map: Mapping access to England’s museums

Museums hold our collective memory for current and future generations. They are institutions at the heart of our local communities, and central to culture, education and tourism.

Given museums’ importance, and in the context of the current review of museums in England that is underway, we have systematically studied access to them in England using an interactive map.

Interactive map of the 1304 museums accredited under Arts Council England's scheme

The map allows museum access to be examined from the perspective of:

  1. national access to museums overall (the distance layer);
  2. the size of populations surrounding museums (the museums layer);
  3. the number of museums across local authorities and regions, relative to the number of people living in these areas (the area layer).

The museums analysed are those in England that are members of Arts Council England’s accredited museum scheme. This scheme covers museums that apply to the scheme and are certified as meeting certain standards. This will not capture museums that are not members of the scheme, it does though include all of the largest public collections in England and a significant proportion of all English museums with just over 1300 accredited institutions in total. Using accredited museums also has the benefit that the institutions have been certified as being a museum according to consistent criteria.

Below are a number of findings from the analysis, with some guidance on how to see them by interacting with the map:

Findings on museums access in England

  • People who can travel are able to access a significant number of museums within their local area. Although there tend to be more museums in areas with higher levels of population, the accredited museums are still spread across England, Over 90 per cent of the population in England have at least 25 accredited museums within 40km of them.
    How to see this on the map. To explore this go to the distance layer. Changing the slider in the left-hand corner alters the distance around an area within which museum access is measured. As you increase the distance, people around the country are able to access more museums as they can travel further to reach them. Hovering over the map shows the number of museums that are accessible within the distance set by the slider.
  • It might be thought that London has the most accredited museums in England, but in fact other regions have more, and this is particularly the case if you look at this in terms of the number of museums per person (although not in terms of museums density). London has the third lowest number of museums of all English regions. This admittedly partly reflects the fact that the collections of some of the London museums are among the largest and most significant in the country. In terms of density of museums London also has the highest number of museums per square km. The Southeast has the most museums in absolute terms (233 accredited museums) and the South West has the most museums in terms of museums per head with 3.3 museums per 100,000 people.
  • Some local authorities have particularly high levels of museums. Cornwall has the highest number of museums of any local authority and the City of London has the highest number of museums in per-head terms. The local authorities of Cornwall, Westminster and Camden have the most museums at 31, 23 and 22 museums respectively. The City of London has the most museums per head with 5 museums for its 8,760 residents, followed by the Isles of Scilly and Ryedale. The former has the museum with the smallest surrounding population. Camden’s large number of museums relate to the presence of the British Museum, museums associated with University College London and the fact that a number of famous Hampstead residents’ houses have subsequently become museums e.g. The architect Erno Goldfinger, the poet John Keats and Sigmund Freud.

    How to see this on the map: To explore this go to the areas layer. If you hover the cursor over a region a pop up will appear on the number of museums within an area. To look at how many museums per head of population there are click the switch marked “per person counts”. If you want to look at the local authority information zoom into the map and the view will switch to being of local authorities in England.
Museum statistics table
  • Some of our largest national museums have surrounding populations where a high proportion of people live in more deprived areas.
    All major urban areas have accredited museums, some of which are the country’s largest museums. A substantial number of more deprived areas occur in England’s largest cities. This means that the accredited museums with the largest populations are in the large urban areas, and a significant proportion of these surrounding populations are often from more deprived areas. This shows that people who live in more deprived areas often do have museums close to them - so with the exception of those who are not able bodied, proximity is often not a barrier to entry. There is therefore a challenge to these museums in how to engage their surrounding communities.

How to see this on the map: If you go to the museums layer the map will show the location of all the accredited museums in England. If you hover over a museum with the mouse a pop up will appear showing the number of people living within 10 km of the museum, and the proportion that live in areas that score in the bottom 20 per cent as measured by the index of multiple deprivation (IMD) [1]. The slider on the lower left-hand side allows you to show all museums that have more than a given share of the surrounding population in more deprived areas. As you increase the share of the population living in more deprived areas you will see that it’s the accredited museums in the large urban centres that remain.

What the map does not show

Although the map shows a lot of the information, there are some areas that can’t readily be displayed due to the absence or incompleteness of data.

The map only shows museums in England accredited under the Arts Council’s accreditation scheme. This means it covers a significant proportion of England’s museums, in particular the largest collections. It also has the benefit that all the institutions have been assessed to a given standard. This does though mean that museums who are unaware of the scheme, or who have decided not to apply for it, or who have applied but were not assessed as meeting its criteria, are not included.

Within accredited museums, one of the main things the map does not show is the capacity of institutions. Some of the museums are very large, while others are small. Museum capacity has many dimensions including the physical size, quality and type of the museum collection and/or its buildings, and when they are open to the public. All of these can affect the number of visits a museum can have, and the nature of the visitor experience, but there is no standardised set of information on these.

While information on museum visit numbers exists, such as from the Visit England survey of visitor attractions, it is not consistently available for all institutions and so is not shown. Indeed, this is why we have separately done work analysing if social media engagement can be used as a proxy for visit numbers where this data was missing [2]. Within visit numbers, demographics of museum visitors are sometimes available from individual visitor surveys, and are available in aggregated form for museum visits in England from the DCMS Taking Part survey. There is though no standardised measure of the demographics of museum participation for each of the accredited museums.

The map is looking at accessibility in terms of distance as the crow flies to the nearest museum. While overall this is probably closely related to travel times, the relationship will not always be perfect due to differences in transport infrastructure and access, for example between urban and rural areas, or in levels of car ownership. For individuals with mobility impairments even very short distances to access museums, or travel within the museum itself, can be a significant barrier to visiting and this will not be captured by the map.

Technical notes on the map and the data used

The museums data was obtained from the Arts Council England website. This was then geocoded. The population data used in the distance and museums layers is the Office for National Statistics (ONS) Lower Super Output Area (LSOAs) data mid-year population estimates for 2015 and index of multiple deprivation data for the same period [3]. The regional and local authority population estimates used in the area layer are from mid-2015 [4]. The population surrounding a museum in the museums layer is based on including the population in an LSOA whose centroid falls with a circle of 10 km surrounding the museum. The population that lives within areas with higher scores on the index of multiple deprivation is calculated by including the population of all LSOAs that fall in the most deprived 20 per cent on the index of multiple deprivation score. In the distance layer the number of museums within given distances are calculated according to the number of museums that fall within the radius set by the slider from the centre of the hexagon.

[1] The index of multiple deprivation measures an area’s level of deprivation using a number of different scores for the levels of Income, Employment, Health deprivation and Disability, Education Skills and Training, Barriers to Housing and Services, Crime, Living Environment. For a map of these see within http://dclgapps.communities.gov.uk/imd/idmap.html .

[2] Lima, A. and Davies, J. (2016), ‘Digital footsteps: Can you measure museum visits without counting them?’, Nesta blog.

[3] Office for National Statistics (2016), ‘Lower Super Output Area Mid-Year Population estimates’ and ‘English indices of deprivation 2015’.

[4] Office for National Statistics (2016), "Mid-year analysis tool".


John Davies

John Davies

John Davies

Principal Data Scientist, Data Analytics Practice

John was a data scientist focusing on the digital and creative economy. He was interested in the interface of economics, digital technology and data.

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Antonio Lima

Antonio Lima

Antonio Lima

Data Science Research Fellow

Antonio was a Data Science Research Fellow at Nesta, working in the Policy and Research team. He is interested in the analysis of complex datasets and the modelling of human behaviour.…

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